Portraits of Peoria

Portraits of Peoria is a public art endeavor honoring notable past Peorians (or those who called central Illinois home) who changed our community and changed the world. Local artists are chosen to create original works of art, which in turn are turned into larger than life portraits. In 2021, two portraits were displayed on the Central Building at the corner of Main and Adams Streets in Peoria, IL. In 2022, the program was expanded to the Peoria Public Library (Main Library) in downtown Peoria. The portraits are now enabled with augmented reality technology through the use of a free app.

Portraits of Peoria is a collaborative project involving Big Picture Peoria, Discover Peoria, and Arts Partners of Central Illinois. We thank Sharon and John Amdall, the City of Peoria, and numerous private donors to Big Picture Initiative for sponsoring the project.

Our goal is to encourage residents of central Illinois to feel pride in our community, recognize the impact Peorians have had on the world, and to honor some of the major influencers who called Peoria home. 

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Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan (1921-2006) was a native Peorian and one of the most influential women ever to have lived. Her book The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963 and immediately became a bestseller, attracting millions of women to the feminist cause and helping to spur a wave of anti-discrimination legislation. She cofounded the National Organization for Women and served as its first president, organized the nationwide Women’s Strike for Equality, and went on to write five more books. She helped change the world, and she credited her Peoria roots for teaching her about the power of community and the ability to come together to make change.

About the Mural Artist

Eliza von Zerneck is a freelance illustrator and designer based in Peoria. She has a BFA in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design. Like Friedan, she has roots in both Peoria and New York City, and she aims to inspire, educate, and delight those who interact with her work. She often explores subjects of gender and domesticity, with a focus on female portraiture. Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elizadrewlittle

About the Augmented Reality Performing Artist

Heather Harlow is a Midwestern born & raised Sag-eligible actress who found her passion for the craft through the haunt industry seven years ago. She is an award-winning, self-taught SFX Artist, as well as a Horror Model, Cosplayer, and rising Scream Queen, She often doubles on set as Actress & Crew, as she enjoys set design and making props, along with hair, make-up, and SFX. Heather now has over 35 credits to her name—in front of and behind the camera. This fall, you can catch her debut on stage as one of the wives of Jacob in a production of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Dr. Romeo B Garrett

Dr. Romeo B. Garrett (1910-2000) was a scholar, educator, minister, author and the first Black professor at Bradley University. Raised in the South, he moved to Peoria after serving in World War II and earned his master’s degree and PhD from Bradley University. He taught at Bradley for nearly 30 years, published three books documenting Black history, and served for years as the associate pastor at Zion Baptist Church. Dr. Garrett’s legacy lives on at Bradley University through the Romeo B. Garrett Cultural Center, the Romeo B. Garrett Scholarship, and Bradley’s annual Garrett Week to promote multicultural awareness.

Visit this website created by Bradley University students for more information: https://romeobgarrett.omeka.net/

About the Mural Artist

Kevin J Bradford is a traditional artist and self-taught digital artist. Bradford has experience in pen, color pencils, watercolor, and oil paint. He has been a creator for over 15 years. In 2017, Bradford left his full-time job in 2017 to invest in himself and work part-time to allow himself time to create and complete commissions.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mello4eva

About the Augmented Reality Performing Artist

Ronnie Hudson II is an Award Winning actor and Electrical/Systems Engineer. Born and raised in Wadley, GA, this passionate and dynamic actor began his acting career in 2016 with several Regional Theater Plays, Musicals, and Independent Film projects throughout the Central Illinois and Chicagoland area. Winning the Manitou Film Festival Best Actor Award in 2021 for his role in the dramatic short “The Premiere”, shows Ronnie’s hardworking and coach-able spirit allows for his natural capabilities and raw emotions to shine on both stage and in film.

Lydia Moss Bradley

An astute business person, investor and landowner, Lydia Moss Bradley (1816-1908) became one of the wealthiest women in America and was generous in her giving, always encouraging improvement to benefit the Peoria community. Her donations helped create Saint Francis Hospital, Laura Bradley Park, the Peoria Park District and many other Peoria institutions — but her crowning achievement was founding Bradley University, which was co-ed, non-sectarian, and did not discriminate against creed, race or nationality. Every year, thousands of young graduates carry forth her legacy, while her investment in Peoria’s parks, churches, homes and institutions are still going strong today.

Visit this website created by Bradley University students for more information: https://lydiamossbradley.omeka.net/home

About the Mural Artist

Paintings that tell a story or inspire a story from the viewer are the type that Connie Andrews enjoys creating. Her oil paintings are full of movement and motion. They portray the passage of time, whether that be a few moments or years passing by. Andrews has become sought after in recent years to create commissioned paintings and sculptures in the private and public sector. She also teaches sculpture and painting in her home studio in Morton, Illinois. Her realistic and artistic rendition of real people in real situations has helped her create a well-known and respected name for herself in central Illinois. Recent highlights of her career: A project in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which has gained national attention from Smithsonian Magazine and other media, is a larger-than-life sculpture she was chosen to paint, inspired by the American Gothic painting of a farmer and his daughter, by Grant Wood; she was one of the first 5 artists, out of over 160, chosen for the first Sky Art Peoria competition that awards a yearlong spot on a billboard in downtown Peoria; she was recently commissioned by the city of Peoria to create a painting that is now prominently displayed in its sister city of Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Website: https://www.connieandrews.net/

About the Augmented Reality Performing Artist

Trisha Triff Noack is a native Peorian from a Bradley University legacy family. Her parents met at Bradley when her father, attending under the GI Bill after WWII, enrolled in an art class taught by her mother. Trisha completed both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree from Bradley and spent the beginning of her career as a copywriter. She went on to manage public relations for several organizations including the non-profit La Leche League International, the Peoria Housing Authority, and the Peoria Public Library. Now retired, Trisha serves as a Trustee of the Peoria Historical Society, a volunteer docent, at John C. Flanagan House Museum, and writes scripts for the Trinity Lutheran Church children’s YouTube channel. She also enjoys participating in living history groups and events representing historic American eras from 1776 to WWI, recreating authentic clothing and accessories for herself and her family to bring history to life. She enjoys the company of her rescued Redbone Coonhound, her three daughters, their husbands, and her grandchildren.

Nance Legins-Costley

Nance Legins-Costley (1813-1892) was the first enslaved person to be legally freed in the United States — twenty years before the start of the American Civil War. As a teenager, she and her sister were publicly auctioned to help pay off her enslaver’s debt, the only such auction ever recorded in the state of Illinois. But she refused to go, and instead filed a lawsuit to secure her freedom. Her courageous fight lasted nearly 15 years before attorney Abraham Lincoln successfully argued her case in front of the Illinois Supreme Court. This decision pushed Lincoln to take a bolder anti-slavery stance and eventually led to the emancipation of four million Black Americans from enslavement.

About the Mural Artist

Preston Jackson creates bronze figurative work, monumental bronze and steel sculpture as well as two-dimensional work. Preston’s work centers on where we have been and where we are going, both in an historical and a philosophical sense. 

Preston is professor emeritus at The School of the Art Institute. He was recently awarded a Regional Emmy for hosting “Legacy in Bronze,” a television show featuring his Julieanne’s Garden sculptures, and was named a 1998 Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois. In 2018 he was chosen as number 6 of the 10 Top Illinois Artists and Architects of all time, the highest ranked living person on the list. Website: http://www.prestonjacksonart.com/

About the Augmented Reality Performing Artist

Juanita R. Williams is a native of Peoria, Illinois.  She is one of 13 children and the daughter of a Pastor. She is a licensed minister, singer, actress and songwriter. She released an EP “Expected Glory” in 2017. Her passion for God, serving God’s people, music, and the arts have ignited a passion that requires Juanita to now share the ministry God has given her through writing. Fulfilling her God-given assignment, she wrote her first book, “Finding Purpose After Sexual Abuse and Trauma, Life Beyond Pain and Finding My True Identity in God” to bring healing and hope to the broken. Juanita also published “Pen to Published, Easy Guide to Write and Publish Your Book” and the companion workbook to “Finding Purpose After Sexual Abuse and Trauma.”

Robert “Bob” Gilmore

Robert “Bob” Gilmore (1920-2020) grew up in Peoria during the Great Depression and joined Caterpillar right out of high school. He enlisted in the Army Air Force and served as a B-17 combat navigator during World War II, flying 36 missions across Europe. After the war he returned to Caterpillar, became assistant manager of the engine plant in East Peoria, started the plant in Grenoble, France, and worked his way up to become president of the company in 1977. After he retired, he served his community on numerous boards and created the Gilmore Foundation, which continues to support important programs and organizations in the Peoria area.

Visit this website created by Bradley University students for more information: https://bobgilmore.omeka.net/

About the Mural Artist

Jeremy Berkley is a graphic designer/illustrator/printmaker based out of East Peoria, IL. His pop culture inspired silk screen prints have been exhibited in art galleries across the country. Most notably the #1 pop culture gallery in the world Gallery 1988: Los Angeles, where he is a regular contributor.
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeremy.berkley/

Website: http://www.berkleycc.com/

About the Augmented Reality Performing Artist

Peoria native and Bradley graduate Lee Wenger retired from WCBU 89.9 in 2019 and is currently involved with the Madison Theatre renovation project, the Peoria Municipal Band, the annual Gridiron Dinner, the Morton Civic Chorus, Holy Family Church, the Annual Community Christmas Sing, and Wright & Salmon Mortuary.  He never actually worked for CAT, but he did direct several Caterpillar Chorus Fall Musicals and he DID drive a massive 797 mining truck around the track at the Edwards Proving Ground!

Valeska Hinton

Known as the “mother of Peoria’s civil rights movement,” Valeska Hinton (1918-1991) helped lead the fight for civil rights during the 1960s. Born in Tennessee, she moved to Peoria after World War II to work at Carver Center, serving as director of the girls’ and women’s program, the girls’ basketball team, the college/career club and the women’s bridge club. When the City of Peoria formed the Human Relations Commission in 1963, she was asked to serve as the first executive director. During the five years she led the commission, she brought the city’s most influential leaders together to build bridges and create solutions. She then served with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for 14 years. Her legacy lives on today through the Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center.

About the Mural Artist

“I am a quiet, sleepy visual artist and plant shepherd. I paint, sculpt, and write- as well as create, arrange, and document in any way that’s available to me.” Aside from Brenda Pagan’s general love of portraiture, she is most inspired by the living world (especially in the river valley) and the overall element of balance: the changing of the seasons; the continuation of Life through death; the Shifts from night to day and day to night; and the healing that comes through connection with the steady changes of earth and skies. Brenda is a founding member of the Peoria Guild of Black Artists.

Website: https://brendapagan.com/

About the Augmented Reality Performing Artist

Michelle Watson who is married for 30 years to her husband Fred Michael Watson and has three children and a grandmother. She was very humbled and honored to have been asked to represent Valeska Surette Hinton, such a strong influential woman! She loves theater and to be able to portray so many characters, and appreciates the art of just transforming into someone different than herself.

Jim and Marian Jordan “Fibber McGee and Molly”

Born and raised in Peoria, Jim (1896-1988) and Marian Jordan (1898-1961) were national stars during the golden age of radio. The couple were natural performers and formed a vaudeville-style traveling group soon after getting married. After working in radio for a few years, their act eventually became Fibber McGee and Molly. The show premiered in 1935 and was the top-rated program in America during World War II. The show was eventually adapted into a series of feature films and came to an end after a 24-year run. The couple are members of the Radio Hall of Fame and have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

About the Mural Artist

Bob Doucette’s whimsical and highly saturated paintings come from the world of dreams. Sometimes bordering on surreal, his imagery is a product of a decade of theater work, puppetry and twenty-five years in the world of animation. As an animation director he was responsible for many well known animated children’s programs for PBS including, Chloe’s Closet, Dive Olly Dive and Clifford’s Puppy Days. He started in animation at Warner Bros. and was involved with many classics like Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. His independently animated films won him many prestigious awards and honors and his MFA thesis film Pink Triangle, the first animated film to depict the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis, is in the permanent collection at the New York Public Library. As a doll maker Bob has been in galleries since the early 90s. His Ben Franklin doll, created for the White House Christmas tree in 1999, is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian. Many of his dolls are in the private collection of Demi Moore and have been featured in books, magazine articles, and TV programs. 

Bob earned a BFA at Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA at CalARTS and studied both illustration and animation. He was born in Waterville Maine and at present lives in Peoria with his husband Tom and his two cats Gingerbread Princess Pumpkin-head. Website: http://bobdoucette.com/

About the Augmented Reality Performing Artist

Chip Joyce is a director, actor, and designer with over 100 theatrical credits throughout Central Illinois. He works as a graphic designer for Bradley University and is happy to be playing a true Peoria legend for the Big Picture, an organization for which he cares deeply!

Mary Ellen Milem’s first appearance on stage was in A Christmas Carol (1975) and she hasn’t been able to shake the bug yet. Since moving to Peoria, she has performed at Peoria Players, Eastlight, the Apollo, Shore Acres with Chillicothe Players Theater, and at Corn Stock in both the tent and the theater center as well as working on sets and sewing costumes. She participates in improv events with Die Laughing Entertainment and has done several film projects. Milem graduated Magna Cum Laude from Bradley University with a BS in Industrial Engineering just two weeks before her fiftieth birthday. She has been a member of the Caterpillar Employees Mixed Chorus for several years and is involved in many areas of our church as well as attending (fully costumed) Renaissance Festivals, reading, and playing Dungeons & Dragons with friends. Her most important roles are as a wife to a wonderful husband, a mom to three adult kids and four cats, and a grandma to eight energetic grandchildren!


Annie Turnbo Malone

Annie Turnbo Malone (1877-1957) was a successful entrepreneur, inventor, philanthropist, and one of the first African American women to become a self-made millionaire. During her teenage years in Peoria, she began developing her own hair care products for African American women. As her business grew, she moved to St. Louis, opened her first retail shop and traveled all over the country, recruiting thousands of women to sell her products. She also founded the first African American college in the U.S. dedicated to cosmetology. She became one of the richest women in the country and donated millions of dollars to important causes and organizations all over the country.

About the Mural Artist

Trish Williams was born and raised in the city of Chicago in the North Lawndale community. After high school, she attended Malcom X Community College under the tutelage of Barbara Jone-Hogu who introduced her to the AfriCOBRA collective and the South Side Community Art Center. Here, Williams was introduced to a broader spectrum of African American artists. In 1997, she read the book “A Communion of The Spirits” by Roland Freeman, which was about African American quilt-makers. She was reminded of her ancestors who carried on these traditions and knew that it was what she was born to do—not just quilts for beds, but art quilts which encompass most of the things that she loves about art. She has exhibited locally, nationally, and internationally. 

Website: http://trishwilliamshandworks.blogspot.com/

About the Augmented Reality Performing Artist

Monica Williams currently works in the medical field with aspirations to become a physician. She acted in three plays at her undergraduate institution, Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale, IL. Williams performs mime and praise dance at her home church and other churches throughout the central Illinois area. She loves all forms of dance but has a special adoration for salsa, hip-hop, and African dances.

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